What to Do When Practising Time is at a Minimum

By April 16, 2019 No Comments

There are many weeks where you will be struggling to find the time to practice. Some weeks you can practice for a couple of days and other weeks you will get none done at all. You will experience periods of no practice at one time or another if you haven’t already. There are many reasons why a student won’t get much practice done, sickness, bereavement, pressure at work, exams, etc. Many of these situations we can’t plan for, but that should not stop us from having a fun time playing music when we do get the time. Most of the time when practice time is scarce, it is only for a little while and normal practice can resume within a few weeks or months.

Many students tell me they feel guilty that they did not practice, or that they are letting the teacher or their band down. Following are my thoughts on the subject, read it thoroughly and think about the strategy because it does work.

All I ask of my students is that you practice when and as much as you can. If you are seeking a career in music then practising every day is a must, but most students are playing for their own enjoyment so practising tends to take a secondary role in their lives. For example the family, job, mortgage, and things like that come first. All good music teachers understand this and I do to. The practice schedule I give to my students is a guide only and is not set in stone. If you are on a reduced practice routine then see me to update your practice schedule please. Remember all I ask is that you practice when and as much as you can.

Some students think that they shouldn’t turn up for their next lesson if they have done little practice or haven’t practised at all. Don’t feel guilty when turning up for a lesson when you haven’t done much practice. I want you to turn up for every lesson no matter how much or little practice you have done because there is always something we can do as explained in the next few paragraphs.

When you come in for your lesson just tell me you haven’t done much or none at all and I can structure the lesson to suit. That is important. Although I can tell within a few seconds how much practice you have done the last week, it is still best if you tell me. 🙂

If you haven’t done any practice in the week there are plenty of things we can do, but the two main things are we can go over what you did last week to make sure you remember everything about the lesson. The other is we can use the session as a practice session like you would do at home only you have the teacher there, which is very beneficial as explained in the next two interesting stories.

I read an article when doing my post graduate studies about some sports coaches who would not let their players do any practice at home or by themselves. The coach had to be present within the team compound at all times when they were practising their moves or exercises. Why would you think that was? If you thought it was so they would only do things correctly and wouldn’t get into any bad habits then you are correct – that is the main reason behind this strategy.

Another story was the famous jazz and studio guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli would not let his son John practice at all without him being there in person. Again Bucky said it was so the son didn’t waste time and didn’t get into any bad habits. Interesting those two stories don’t you think?

Well, I am not taking practising to this extreme because I can’t be there for you all at home when practising, and they are examples from the professional world, but in the amateur world we can use this same strategy to get around limited or no practice time.

Many students think that quitting lessons is the strategy to use when faced with limited practice

time, but that strategy is the worst one available normally. You began guitar lessons because you wanted to be good, and all the best sports people and teams have a coach no matter how well they are practising or performing. If you stay in lessons on a less demanding practice routine you will still be improving, obviously at a lesser rate than before, but you will still be improving. If you quit you go backwards fast. For example, students who are doing the normal practice schedule improve at roughly 100% per year; Students on a less demanding practice schedule improve maybe 30-50% per year; students on a very limited practice routine improve maybe 10-30% per year; students who quit will normally experience a 100% or more decline in their playing abilities over a three to six month period.

A good example of that in action is a student who I taught many years ago came back for lessons, he hadn’t practised hardly at all because he said it wasn’t motivating going it alone (he is correct there), and it took him about a year to get back to his playing standard of before. Of course he learnt some new things along the way while reviewing the older things he needed to do. However, some new things at work and home came up and he decided to quit again, but promised me he would be back in the future for more lessons. He told me music is a major part of his life, and I can see it, but he can’t see the big picture. By stopping and starting and messing around like he is doing, he is sabotaging his musical progress. He would be much better off hanging in there and at least making 20% improvement each year, than a 100% decline, then having to work like crazy to get it all back when he begins again.

Can you see the big picture here?

Improvement is the name of the game here. It is like having a personal trainer at a gym – you can’t put the weights up every session, but the trainer is there to see that you don’t get into bad habits and to keep you honest, and motivated.

If things are not working out how you would like or you are having some troubles getting quality practice time, don’t worry you are not alone. Don’t ever think of quitting – talk to me about it as I have a solution for you.

On weeks that you don’t practice much, a great strategy to use is to go over some previous learnt material with the intention of improving it by at least 1%. There would be no new content to deal with that week. All my students find this strategy very worthwhile and even request that at least one week a month be taken up with just reviewing material previously learnt. Also did you know that a 1% improvement every second day will have you improving 100% every 150 days, if you take into consideration the compounding affect. Well even if you improve by 1% every three or four days will be fine to.

I hope you see the bigger picture now and stay on with your lessons. After all, you want to be a better guitar player don’t you? Remember the statistic I mentioned before – students who quit will normally experience a 100% or more decline in their playing abilities over a three to six month period – and to top it off, find it very difficult when starting back.


© 2013
Kevin Downing
Kevin Downing’s Guitar School
Phone 357 0057